Date story was published: Sunday, March 2, 1986
One team's dream season continued yesterday at Rupp Arena.
For the other, a nightmare was prolonged.
The result had Kentucky prevailing over Louisiana State. The 68-57 victory provided further testament to the allure of Eddie Sutton's first Kentucky team . . . and the star-crossed nature of Dale Brown's 14th LSU squad.
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"Before the season started, I don't think anyone in his wildest dreams would have thought we would be 26-3 and 17-1 in the (Southeastern) conference," Sutton said. "When you do go 17-1 in a great league like this, you not only have to be pretty good but good breaks have to go your way."
Until yesterday, only two other teams, Kentucky in 1969-70 and LSU in 1980-81, had gone through the SEC's 18-game round-robin regular season with only one loss.
Few could have predicted the troubles that have hit LSU, which earlier this season lost its leading scorer (Nikita Wilson) to poor grades and briefly lost half the remaining players to the chicken pox.
Yesterday, the Tigers' third-leading scorer, Don Redden, was injured in pregame warm-ups. Redden, who had 26 points last Wednesday against Auburn, injured his knee and hip in a collision with teammate Jose Vargas.
"We've been snakebit," Brown said, "and this was just another in a long line of examples. We're going to administer blood tests when we get home. We may have leprosy. The only things we haven't had are AIDS and leprosy."
Just as LSU (21-10, 9-9) continued to stumble, Kentucky again displayed its knack for coming up with the right response to impending danger.
It was Rob Lock's turn to provide timely bench strength. After LSU had cut a 15-point UK lead to six, the tall Californian hit back-to-back baskets to inflate the margin to 52-42.
"They were the most important baskets of the season for me," Lock said.
However, as has been the case several times this season, UK had no shortage of heroes.
Another was Winston Bennett, who enjoyed a 10-point second half and blanketed LSU's top scorer, John Williams, the entire game. Helped by Williams' foul trouble, Bennett limited the LSU forward to eight points, 10 below his season average.
"There wasn't any one key," said Bennett of his defensive work. "Maybe he just had an off-night."
When LSU eventually cut Kentucky's lead to four, 54-50, James Blackmon hit two straight 20-footers to start an 8-0 run.
Blackmon also hit a baseline shot to conclude the spurt that put UK ahead 62-50 with six minutes remaining.
"Even in a YMCA league, 36 titles is a heckuva accomplishment," Brown said. "And this isn't the YMCA."
The Wildcats broke from the gate quickly after an emotional pregame salute to the Kentucky team's three seniors: Kenny Walker, Roger Harden and Leroy Byrd.
With Byrd directing the offense, the Wildcats took a 7-2 lead in the first four minutes. On Friday Sutton had said he would not start Byrd, thus breaking a Kentucky tradition. "I had a wonderful dream last night," said Sutton of his change of heart. "It said, 'If you start Leroy, you'll win.' "
When Ed Davender replaced Byrd at the 16:37 mark, UK had a 7-2 lead.
The first-half lead grew to as much as nine when the Wildcats benefited from an unusual three-point play. While Roger Harden was hitting a perimeter jumper, Vargas was knocking Lock to the court. Lock hit the first shot of the one-and-one to put Kentucky ahead 22-13.
LSU's poor shooting also helped UK grab a lead it never relinquished. The Tigers hit only four of its first 15 shots and improved only slightly the rest of the half. LSU's first-half shooting percentage was 30.3 (10 of 33).
Point guard Derrick Taylor alluded to the pregame festivities, which included a stirring rendition of "My Old Kentucky Home" by former Gov. A.B. ''Happy" Chandler, as a reason for LSU's slow start.
"That was involved in it," Taylor said. "It was a lack of concentration on our part. We got caught up in the emotions and tried too hard."
One of LSU's few breaks came fast on the heels of the Harden-Lock three- point play.
After enveloping Taylor's driving shot, Walker took off on a fast break.
Taylor, the closest player to Walker, still trailed the UK star as he rose for a dunk that never came. Instead, Walker shifted the ball to his left hand after seemingly getting a shove from Taylor and banked it awkwardly off the glass. The shot fell harmlessly off the rim with no foul called.
"He (Taylor) hit my right arm," Walker said. "That's why I switched the ball to my left hand. Oh well, those things happen."
Bennett, who had a quiet two-point first half, led a second-half charge that took Kentucky to a 45-30 lead. Bennett scored UK's first six points after intermission and contributed eight to a 15-6 run that left the Cats ahead by 15.
"I just knew I didn't want another game like Tennessee," said Bennett of his five-point, four-rebound night in Knoxville last Thursday. "Also, the team was in trouble."
However, Kentucky went from feast to famine after the Bennett-propelled run. The Cats went four minutes and five seconds without a point and 20 seconds more without a basket.
With guard Anthony Wilson hitting two jumpers, part of his game-high 21- point total, LSU scored 10 straight points to cut the Wildcat lead to 45-40.
"We've kind of had that tendency all year," Harden said. "Our shot selection got LSU back into the game. It was self-inflicted."
LSU got no closer than four, the last time coming at 54-50.
Blackmon's jumpers, which were sandwiched around a walking call on Vargas, saw to that.